Arizona's First University: Arizona's lamest slogan

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Connor Mendenhall
columnist

For months last year, a banner hanging from the top of the Administration building proudly declared our campus ""Arizona's First University."" Since the new tagline was adopted in 2006, it has slowly percolated into campus consciousness. Look closely, and you'll find it everywhere - on signs, flyers, stationery, Web sites - even on the backs of hundreds of unsuspecting freshmen, written on free T-shirts handed out at orientation. The slogan's ubiquity is impressive - so it's too bad its message sucks.

Like it or not, an attractive brand image is the foundation of the struggle to recruit talent, raise money and promote the university. Recognizing that need, the UA has an office dedicated to honing our brand.├┐The Office of External Relations, one of many desks in our university bureaucracy, publishes the ""UA Style Guide,"" a set of exhaustive rules for creating a distinctive image for the university. The introduction to the guide, written by President Shelton, notes dryly that ""many aspects of a university benefit from, even thrive on, independent thinking. Graphic identity is not one of them.""

To that end, the manual includes precise ""guidelines and policies for using the University's official logos in publications, stationery, electronic communication, exterior building signage and wayfinding systems."" It outlines UA's official typeface (called Friz Quadrata, if you're interested), the specific hues of ""UA Red"" and ""UA Blue"" (Pantone Matching System 200 and 281, respectively) and the amount of space that should surround any official logo (it must be equal to the width of the top blue bar of the block ""A""). Of course, a graphic identity is nothing without a memorable slogan, which is where ""Arizona's First University"" comes in. Unfortunately, the pervasive phrase happens to be Arizona's lamest tagline.

The style guide claims that the UA brand should present Arizona as a ""premier, student-centered research institution."" That's a worthy identity that ought to be

promoted. But ""Arizona's First University"" says nothing about excellence, students or research. It's a statement of fact, as banal and uninspired as ""Arizona's largest ball of twine"" or ""Arizona's tallest stack of flapjacks.""

True, a case can be made that ""first"" is a bit of clever wordplay, exploiting both the specific historical fact that the UA - founded in 1885 - was the first university in Arizona Territory and the word's more general meaning as a marker of exceptionalism - highlighting the fact that UA is a leader in many academic fields and is arguably Arizona's most excellent institution of higher education. But slogans aren't meant to be subtle. They're meant to appeal directly to our dormant lizard brains, to inspire or enliven those who read them. Our mediocre mantra falls flat.

UA isn't the only school with a humdrum slogan. A perusal of other university taglines reveals distinct trends in middling marketing lines, including the trio of imperatives - ""Inspire. Learn. Achieve."" and so many commitments to excellence that greatness quickly begins to look like mediocrity. But that's all the more reason to dream up something better for UA - with so many awful slogans out there, leaving our own as unimaginative as it is now is a lost opportunity.

Look up north, and the story is different. Arizona State University president Michael Crow seizes every chance he gets to make the magniloquent claim that ASU is ""The New American University."" Arrogant, yes. But at least it's visionary. The Sun Devils' slogan shoots high, aiming not just at being an excellent school, but also towards reinventing the entire ideal of the university. That's right - they want to transform the academy itself.

Problem is, by most measures, Arizona is a far more excellent institution. So why doesn't our slogan reflect it? If we're going to slather a slogan across campus, we might as well make it a good one. Students see the message countless times each day. Imagine if it was inspiring, rather than ignored.

Our slogan may test well with focus groups, but it says nothing about our university's culture or identity. ""Arizona's Best University"" would be a marked - and justifiable - improvement, though no doubt an undiplomatic one. Our school motto, ""Bear Down,"" is even better - it's a spirited demand tied to a legendary piece of UA history. But perhaps we should toss the slogan altogether. Ideally, it should reflect the vision of the university - and before we can develop an effective slogan, we need a clear and ambitious ideal to strive for. Until then, ""Arizona's First University"" will be just another giant ball of twine.

Connor Mendenhall is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies and the opinions editor for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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